Memory Loss and the Aging Brain By: Jenna Lingold

Memory loss is a normal part of aging that happens to the majority of the population. Being a young adult in today’s day and age it’s very common of an assumption that every aged adult is experiencing some type of memory loss whether it is forgetting where their glasses are or to other extremes such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. This stereotype has become such a norm for our society that it’s hard not to predict this to be the outcome for everyone while aging. Growing up I had personal experience with memory loss, dementia specifically. My great grandmother spent that last 10 years of her life struggling to remember who her children were and even who she was. The deteriorating disease is hard to watch a loved one endure and can be quite crippling to the individual suffering from memory loss. What most people don’t know about memory loss is that depending on genetics and individual circumstances, memory loss can begin at any point in a person’s life. Take my mom for example, she recently suffered from a traumatic brain injury and is currently struggling with memory loss. This is very frustrating and extremely hard to deal with not only for my mom but for my family as well. Memory loss and dementia are hard to understand and also hard to be supportive of. Although this is a common stereotype for the aging population and can sometimes be over assumed for some, it is still reality for many older adults which is why it’s important to educate yourself on the topic because you will most likely run across someone with it or maybe even your own self some day suffering from memory loss due to aging.

The first article which I reviewed on the topic of memory loss and the aging population was a study on whether or not aging and Alzheimer’s disease were to be considered one in the same or not (Scodellaro & Pin, 2013). Scodellaro and Pin’s study looked at the difference between just aging vs. actually being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (Scodellaro & Pin, 2013). This study took a sampling of articles, which reviewed this topic specifically for certain populations (Scodellaro & Pin, 2013). After compiling all of the various articles and Internet webpages the results of the study concluded interesting findings when it comes to the stereotype of the aging population being associated with memory loss and certain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s (Scodellaro & Pin, 2013). This study found that Alzheimer disease has become more prevalent over the years that have lead to several stigmas and stereotypes about memory loss (Scodellaro & Pin, 2013). These stereotypes have caused such individuals to be less likely to seek treatment and get an appropriate diagnosis of there mental health leading to a rapid under diagnosis and under care of memory loss and Alzheimer’s in older adulthood (Scodellaro & Pin, 2013). This study motioned how memory loss used to be considered a normal process of aging and not considered a disability and how individuals with cognitive declines didn’t see themselves has sick individuals rather just aging (Scodellaro & Pin, 2013). But, now memory loss is more likely to be diagnosed which makes these individuals feel more disabled than before (Scodellaro & Pin, 2013). This article supports the stereotype that older adults are forgetful and demented by stating that cognitive decline and forgetfulness is a common aspect of aging but this common diagnosis may question the stigma placed upon the aging population.

The second article which addressed this topic of the stereotype of the aging population having memory loss, looked into the ability of older adults to recall their current medications (Jones et al., 2015). The purpose behind this study was to determine two things: first if adults without known cognitive impairments were having issues recalling medications and second if based on the previous questions results if physicians should be more hesitant in accepting a patient’s verbal medical history (Jones et al., 2015). The participants in this study were specifically adults ages 65 + who were currently taking daily medications (Jones et al., 2015). The independent variable in this study were individuals with a prior known cognitive impairment which would set the baseline since they were already expected to have some issues recalling medications while the dependent variable in this case was patients without known cognitive impairments in order to be able to compare the difference in ability to recall medications (Jones et al., 2015). After completing the study the results showed that older adults without known cognitive impairments struggled to recall their medical history and current mediations (Jones et al., 2015). This article supports the stereotype that all older adults are forgetful and have some type of memory loss based on the fact that this study showed that aging adults without any diagnosed cognitive impairments such as dementia and Alzheimer’s had issues recalling medical history. Meaning that forgetfulness does come with age and is not only specific to individuals with cognitive declines.

Another study reviewed was one that looked specifically at the perceptions of stereotypes in the aging population (Fernández-Ballesteros et al., 2015). The purpose of this study was to determine if the connotation (either negative or positive) of the stereotype of memory loss had an influence on older adults memory recall abilities (Fernández-Ballesteros et al., 2015). The participants of the study were 112 older adults taking part in (PUMA), these adults with ages ranging from 55-78 years old were placed in two groups either a positive information or negative information group about the stereotype, there was also a control group that wasn’t exposed to any information (Fernández-Ballesteros et al., 2015). The adults were then asked to take a memory test which showed that the individuals who were exposed to positive information about memory loss before the memory task showed an increase in memory recall rather than the individuals exposed to the stereotype side of information about memory loss in late adulthood (Fernández-Ballesteros et al., 2015). The significance of this study in relation to the stereotype that older adults all have memory loss refutes the stereotype by saying that this stereotype is all in our heads. By putting this negative information in the elderly populations head they are being put down and degraded with negative stereotypes which is just setting them up for failure when that’s not the actual reality of their true cognitive function.

Julianne Ballard’s article looked into the idea of forgetfulness and the concept behind it (Ballard, 2010). The purpose of this study was to be able to look into the factors leading to forgetfulness in older adulthood and the later effects it has on the individual (Ballard, 2010). This study took a compilation of over 44 varying sources that provided analysis and review of studies on forgetfulness (Ballard, 2010). After reviewing the compilation of journals and textbooks Ballard was able to draw a conclusion that forgetfulness is a result of biological aging (Ballard, 2010). As we age we become more forgetful and as far as the later effects due to being more forgetful, individuals were seen to be more fearful with lower rates of self esteem (Ballard, 2010). Ballard states that forgetfulness is seen in all types of individuals across all cultures, ethnicities, and varying health status, which supports the stereotype that all aging adults are forgetful and suffering from some type of cognitive decline such as memory loss (Ballard, 2010).

All of these articles support the stereotype that aging adults are forgetful and are victims of memory loss. Although I have concluded that memory loss does happen as a result of aging and is not only a stereotype but a reality I have also discovered an underlying picture beneath the surface of the facts. This being the effects behind the stigma, older adults experience distress in there aging years due to these intense stigmas. My ending thought after all this research is to take away the stereotypes that old people are forgetful and accept the fact that it’s a part of biology, an innate feature that will happen to all of us. Instead of stigmatizing these individuals we should embrace the beauty of aging and support elderly men and women in seeking help and maybe even a diagnosis for there so called forgetfulness in order to avoid less harm in the future.

Reference List

Ballard, J. (2010). Forgetfulness and older adults: Concept analysis. Journal Of Advanced Nursing, 66(6), 1409-1419. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2010.05279.x

Fernández-Ballesteros, R., Bustillos, A., & Huici, C. (2015). Positive perception of aging and performance in a memory task: Compensating for stereotype threat?. Experimental Aging Research, 41(4), 410-425. doi:10.1080/0361073X.2015.1053757

Jones, G., Tabassum, V., Zarow, G. J., & Ala, T. A. (2015). The inability of older adults to recall their drugs and medical conditions. Drugs & Aging, 32(4), 329-336. doi:10.1007/s40266-015-0255-z

Scodellaro, C., & Pin, S. (2013). The ambiguous relationships between aging and Alzheimer’s disease: A critical literature review. Dementia: The International Journal Of Social Research And Practice, 12(1), 137-151. doi:10.1177/1471301211421230

 

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